Panthers present problems

Carolina is 1-2 since dominating the Falcons in a 24-6 victory four weeks ago. A road win over the hurricane-ravaged Saints, preceded by a decisive home loss to Tampa Bay, was followed last week with a 24-20 performance that left Panther fans disenchanted and angry as they left the Charlotte stadium.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme knows that Atlanta would savor a chance to dampen Carolina's postseason hopes.

"If the shoe was on the other foot, we'd like nothing more than to keep someone from our division from making the playoffs," Delhomme said. "That's what it's about. You're trying to win games. We know it's going to be tough. They played five quarters last week and went down to the wire against Tampa Bay, and they're going to come out ready to play against us. We just have to match that intensity and try and do some good things."

The Panthers are likely to use Nick Goings, who began the season as their No. 3 running back, as much as they call on starter DeShaun Foster. Carolina head coach John Fox lists Foster as questionable with a sore toe, an injury that's contributed to the team's struggles in establishing the run since the former UCLA standout ran for 134 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Falcons.

Stephen Davis, who ran for a career-high 1,444 yards in 2003 as he helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl, landed on season-ending injured reserve after the Atlanta game. Goings, however, was the lone back to run for Carolina in last year's 34-31 overtime loss at the dome.

An undrafted rookie free agent from Pittsburgh in 2001, Goings finished with 61 yards and scored the 5-yard touchdown that gave the Panthers a seven-point lead with 3:34 remaining.

Vick's 12-yard run two minutes later sent the game into overtime, but the Falcons witnessed earlier this month that they can't afford to let Carolina's offensive line can control the line of scrimmage.

"We have to get some pressure on Jake, and we've got our work cut out for us in trying to keep a handle of (Pro Bowl receiver) Steve Smith," Brooking said. "It's a big job, but if we execute the game plan our coaches drew up for us, we should be OK."

Regardless of the means, Brooking knows the final score will determine if the 40-year drought mercifully ends.

"I hope so," he said. "No time is better than now, if you ask me."

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